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Loofish Ramblings

My thoughts and ponderings on games and gaming, including lunch time sessions, couple and family gaming and thoughts on the games that are catching my eye.

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Here Be Dragons

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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Scant updates on the blog and also rather scant gaming, but these were some interesting plays.

Just one play of Star Realms, which is an indication of the gaming scantness. We recently got the very fancy game box to store all our Star Realms goodness, at least partly to get the also very fancy Star Realms approved sleeves. So for the last few weeks, we have been playing both the base set, Star Realms: Colony Wars and the Mercenary Garrison promo thrown in the mix. That makes for a big stack of cards!

In this week's game, there was the normal back and forth, fairly even battle for supremacy. What we have generally found is that the player that went first tends to win these close games and that certainly seemed to be the case this time, as Jenny started her turn with me at 6 authority. But a flurry of the last scouts and less combat ships meant she only did 5. So surely the tables are turned...except I drew a couple of trade ships and my own weak ships came through and I could only do a little damage as well. The freighter I had meant the blob mothership would be along next turn to finish it. But of course, Jenny's fleet showed up in abundance the following turn to utterly demolish everything.

Then on Wednesday, we had a power cut at work. Something fairly important too, so seeing as it was already 2pm with at least 2 hours of work to do, they sent us home. So when my wife got back from her own work, there was an unexpected chance for some games. I put up Port Royal, including Port Royal: Ein Auftrag geht noch.... We ended up playing twice before she had to go back out and look after cats.

The contracts in game 1: Fighter, Tax Officer, Comedian and Jinx.
I get the jester and monk early for the comedian while Jenny builds up s
words. I keep building up and get my own swords eventually, though Jenny claims fighter first, but then she gets things together to claim a big expedition, putting her to 12. I am at 10 but lack some cash so need a big turn...which crashes quickly as 2 black ships show up.

That has been a trend recently, take a risk and the ship you really didn't want shows up.

Rematch requested, this time with Galleon Foe, Frigate Foe, Cheap Staff and Gamester.

Jenny puts down an early marker for frigate foe and we both take some chances on the gamester, though I grab a pirate and sailor to help out. However, despite a lack of swords to repel unwanted ships, Jenny gets it first, giving her a load of cash which goes on a governor. I am ahead in points but I know she will be catching up fast and the governor helps her finish the cheap staff and the cash from frigate foe keeps her going. I get galleon foe and a variety of people, so I hit 12, actually 14 when all said and done via an expedition. Jenny goes for the fences, avoids bad ships (why can't I do that?) and pulls out a captain and a tax increase which pays her the 1 she needed to buy the 2 point clerk, while also claiming an expedition. I have in response 3 cash...not enough to buy 1 point of anything. So she pips me again.

Despite my grumbles, I love the push your luck and the mini engine building of this game and the contracts give it that extra bit of structure that pushes it up into really good game territory.

Final game of the week already. wow

The new expansion for Draco Magi arrived. They did a very cool thing here, there have been some differences in the card backs between printings so they not only sent the new dragons and battlegrounds, but an entire set of the old base game dragons and battle cards. So everything matches nicely. There was some talk in the forums of miscut cards, but happily none of mine seem to have suffered that fate, so I shuffled it all in and we gave it a whirl. Some neat new dragon effects.

Oddly, we only got yellow and green gems on the battlefields. First round, we split battles (Jenny demolished me at one battle but I pulled out the win in the second). In between those battles, in the 3rd location, it was going well for me but Jenny pulled out a reinforce which pushed it in her favor. With me out of cards, she attacked and if I lost one more dragon, she would win the battle by having a dragon advantage. But I pulled the bite I needed and it was tied. Drama!

What's nice about a tied battle is that it adds a bit more thought to the next round as you have 8 dragons in hand but less than 8 places to put them. I survived a couple of near misses in the ranged attacks (the one where she drew a single ranged attack card and she got the one with 3 hits on it in particular!). Into the melee, I crushed in the first battle of round 2, putting me at a nice 2 greens, but Jenny won the 2nd battle. I had used a reinforce taking away a dragon from the third battle and that came back to bite me as she had the edge in numbers of dragons and of course I drew 2 flight cards for a battle in the dungeon where you can't play flight cards. So she got 3 yellows and won.

I don't know why I can't seem to win at this game, but that is the state of play so far. I had even put it aside for a while, waiting for the expansion partly but just to give myself a break. I didn't have horrible luck but it did seem to strike at particularly inopportune moments (although some of it was definitely self-inflicted). I think we will pull it out some more in the coming weeks (when my poor busy wife has time), because we can't stop playing until I have won at least once.

Photos from Shadowwolfrun, fourquartets and Tinyelvis - thanks!
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Mon Jun 27, 2016 7:00 pm
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For May the Play Stays Mainly the Same

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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My May play summary is a pretty healthy 47 plays, though as it was for April, most of those plays were Star Realms - a play a day rate of 31 plays for May. I keep saying we will be combining the base set with Star Realms: Colony Wars but thus far all the plays have been one or the other - one is sleeved and the other is not. And it turned out the sleeves I had used we only had a few more so we needed to actually buy some. And yeah, so the process goes on - I got the box with the sleeves but that is backordered. Hopefully this will happen soon.

A couple of new games in the collection, I already discussed Suburbia, but 2 other games arrived this month. The first was one I had been contemplating for a while, as a tea drinker and gamer, to have those two things combined in Elevenses would be most fine. We had Matcha already (by the same designer) and I wondered if there would be overlap, but Matcha is much different, I want to say lighter, plus 2 player only. We have only played Elevenses 2 player, but there seems a little more depth there and I am very happy to have gotten it.

Another game I thought to add to my collection for a while now is Port Royal. Indeed, I had planned to get it for myself for Christmas if no one got it for me, but when the time came, copies were hard to find and I resolved to keep an eye out and jump at the chance if and when they became available. Not sure what the distribution issue is, my local game store does not list it, though you can get it on Amazon.com. Well, for a while you could get it if you were willing to pay the price, but I waited. And then I saw the side bar ad showing the game for a good price. And much to my surprise, I saw they were offering the expansion Port Royal: Ein Auftrag geht noch... as well. I snapped both up.

Turned out that the seller was in Germany, which makes sense, but the game came fairly quickly and I was happy with what I paid too.

I had played this game a fair bit on Yucata.de and was looking forward to trying it out in real life. A few things that I did not really appreciate from the online version, the very compact mechanism for paying money by drawing the cards off the deck, conveniently thwarting hard core card counters as well. I'd also missed that getting multiple contracts (that is in the expansion) gave you extra points, though that is my poor rules reading. I do tend to skim rules rather when reading for online games, after all the computer will enforce them and I just need to play. It will tell me if I am doing it wrong.

Anyway, our first game, it was a lot of fun from where I was sitting but my wife did not immediately take to it, feeling it was a bit 'random' for her taste. I'd heard this complaint before, and while it is clearly somewhat in the hands of Fate, I think a good player will find a way. However, my concerns that she would just end up hating the game disappeared when she played again, wanting the contracts in. So I was extra glad to have gotten the expansion. For those that don't know, the expansion adds a few people with some similar but tweaked abilities to the base set, but also adds 'contracts' where if you fulfill some kind of criteria (like having the captain and the mademoiselle in play), you can place one of your 3 cubes on the available spot, and claim a prize, a few coins usually, depending on the difficulty. It gives an extra dimension to the game, making different people cards more valuable in different hands. We ended up playing this twice back to back, and both times I ended the game going to 12 points and she overtook me to get to 13. That, I am sure, helped with her impression, but it was quite exciting. Those moments as you push your luck, searching for the card you need, dreading the card being another ship that you can't repel, it is delicious.

I got to play some 2-player with my friend Rick, who I mostly play multi-player with. But he was at the game store while his son played Warhammer 40K and he needed help to pass the time. We played Race for the Galaxy with Xeno Invasion, which he had not played. Indeed, Race is a game he owns and loves but doesn't get to play much because his wife hates it. So other things are played 2 player at home and other games are played when the whole gang comes over. It was fun to show him the new stuff (we just played the cards, no invasion game) and he picked up things quite well, his gathering military momentum something to behold, though he didn't get much consume powers so though he had a bunch of goods lying around, my consumes passed him by and my 2 cranks of my engine were enough to deplete the VP stash. It was commendably close, especially after he dug hard for a 6-cost development to play.

I also showed him Parade. Well, to be fair, he knows Parade but not as the 2 player game. And it was the choice for while we waited for my wife to get back and hopefully join us. The more cut-throat 2 player takes some getting used to, you really have to watch what the other player is getting and how they might be able to mess up your majorities. My wife and I played this a bunch a couple years back and I still love it now.

After Parade, we had to go, my wife's work had all taken longer than expected so she just wanted to head home and get some food. But it was good to catch up with Rick and play some 2-players.

The last game I wanted to mention in the monthly round up here was Mice and Mystics. I bought the game on preorder and we still have not played through the scenario book that comes with the game. In fact, when I checked when we had last played, it was in fact last Memorial Day weekend. And here I was, on this Memorial Day Monday, persuading the kids to come out of their rooms and play a board game with Dad.

This is part of a push to get us more family time together. I have consciously not pushed my hobby on them. If they wanted to play, I figured they would ask me. But pretty much they didn't. Thus the year gap in M&M action. Even our HeroQuest campaign took forever because of long gaps and they both professed to love that game. Anyway, the plan is for me to get them to play regularly, to be more pushy about it. And we will see what happens.

We were playing chapter 4 of the story. Our heroes were sneaking back in to find out what the wicked queen was up to. Previously, we had had no trouble completing the objectives, even doing the kitchen side quest in part 1. But perhaps with maturity, they have gained my own dark arts with dice, to roll what you shouldn't, because there was a lot of cheese rolled in this game, mostly when we did not want it, i.e. on the bad guys' rolls. For whatever reason this game took longer too, we got through the first few rooms, I realized we should have done more searching earlier but forged on and then the cat showed up in the dining room. When my old mouse got knocked out by the pouncing paws, it moved the hourglass up to almost the end...and we had had about enough for one night.

But I did get the feeling this session was not as well received as the earlier ones, perhaps a bit of the bad luck spoiling things a bit but I didn't feel too thrilled about the rolling and the more rolling. I kept thinking perhaps we should just break out a real RPG instead? But I might have misconstrued their reactions and they both say that they are keen to carry on. So we'll revisit this topic. But that will certainly be blogged about in the coming weeks.

Photos by HarlockHero, CrazyCatman, bovbossi, Photodump, rassilonsghost and nobeerblues - thanks to all!
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Sun Jun 5, 2016 1:20 am
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Pigging on cake under lanterns

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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So for the first time in ages, I got to meet up with the game group. It had been sufficiently long that keeping it to a smaller group was not thought to be the thing to do, so we opened it up to a few couples we occasionally game with, with the idea that we would have a couple of tables going then maybe get together for the party game later on.

Well, the getting together part and the catching up part were both very lively. But while one half was merrily chit-chatting, 5 of us decided to get a game going. I had stocked my game bag with lighter fare, anticipating the crowd as it were, the last game I had thrown in, almost as an after-thought, was Tales & Games: The Three Little Pigs. I had not gotten this played at any previous game night, so I was teaching as well, but this is a pretty quick teach. Or so I thought, as there are a few little rules and wrinkles that some of the group did not anticipate ("incomplete houses don't count?! You never told us that!" Er, actually I did...).

But the game itself, a breezy dice game about building houses out of parts of various materials, while watching out for the wold who might blow it down, went along very enjoyably. There are 9 piles of 3 materials (straw, wood, brick, of course) and 3 different levels (roof, window and door). You put a roof on last, completing the house and the game ends when a certain number of piles are gone; with 5 it is 5 piles and with 5 players they disappear fast, especially the straw ones. The wolf part is entertaining - if you roll 2 wolf heads, you don't spend your dice for stuff but point to a house and spin the spinner (or blow it if you are getting into character). 3 sections show straw, 2 wood and 1 brick. And the material the spinner lands on is removed from the house. I had my wooden door blown out from under my straw roof (which destroys it as only a roof is no longer a house). Ron built a proper straw house (which garners a bonus) but then that was blown down too. Indeed most of us were struggling to get anything built at all (especially in the latter stages, it becomes the roof cursing game because you never get one when you want one). But my wife Jenny managed 2 houses and so she was actively trying to end the game. She missed her first chance because she had to blow someone's house down but we only had time to build a last few things before she did end it the turn later, collecting the bonus for most houses and most flowers.

That was a hit so we played again, this time master of building Ron (learning from his earlier mistake in fairy tale fashion) built a mighty brick house and the points you get for a complete brick house is hard to overcome. And indeed we did not though Jenny gave it a good go, with more houses and bonuses again. I made a masterful play on my last turn to move up to 4th place.

A funny aside, we were all pretty terrible at blowing the spinner to make it spin, though it is not the greatest spinner to be fair. But our host Rick's 6 year old son came to see what we were doing and he made it spin like crazy. So maybe it is just us.

Our final guest Tom was expected soon so we played one more game, a game group favorite: Piece o' Cake. Rick was all set to play but his wife Kristi spotted us playing it and ejected him. Some tough cakes to cut in this game after the initial round, none of the low numbers came out and there was one with 5 strawberry pieces! Jenny got control of chocolate, Ron of blackberry, there was a big fight over 8 and 9 which I was in but that last pie decided it as Jenny took the pie with my 4 in so I grabbed a piece of 8 and 9, getting me those. Kristi got the 9 that equaled me so she got that and that left Ron and Rob with cherry that they had to eat (as I had 2 already). But Jenny had a huge pile of eaten pieces, plus chocolate (11) and peach (4) dominance, enough to just get ahead of both Kristi and me.

We love this game, the simple premise but the tough decisions, which grow in importance through the game. And quick too, so it always has a spot in the game bag.

At this point, the long awaited split into 2 groups actually happened, as the social whirlwinds finally came in to play. Two groups, one the fun party group went off to play Time's Up!, while the strategy gamers gathered in the next room to play Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. I have enjoyed my plays of this, fairly light and easy to get to grips with but still there is something beneath, some subtleties and clever things you can do.

This was new to 2 of us, so I taught this to Rob and Tom, then we got to collecting cards, with a bunch of favor tokens in the initial placements, 5 out of 8 had symbols on. We built up our sets but Jenny was able to build up 4 of a kinds which no one else was really able to do so she had several of those plus a sprinkling of other point tiles. The rest of us also scored, some 1 of each, but mostly the 3 pair. The 3 pair stack dwindled fast, with my final move being a 3 pair for 4 points (if a stack runs out, you use the gray 4 point tiles for whichever pile, the first time we used those) and then Tom got one of those as well. Without counting the winner was pretty obvious.

It always feels like, with everyone scoring regularly and all the points being pretty even, that it is always going to be close. But we really got a lesson here. And that reinforces my feeling that there is more to this than meets the eye.

The Time's Up game was finishing its first round but there were some disagreements and they decided to call it right there. The party began to disperse, folk heading home. So the anticipated Codenames with all us of us together did not happen. My crew and Rick hung around for a while, catching up a bit more and then we idly started playing Electronic Catch Phrase as a one team game, just two of us trying to guess the phrase, taking it in turns. Then our kids joined in which was pretty funny, especially as when they joined the setting was on the 1980s! though he knew not what it meant, my son did manage to get us to say Falcon Crest. And then we changed it to the 2010s and they got a bit more of the answers. Just for fun, but it was fun to see them join in the games rather than hide out with their computer games.

So it ended up a slightly abbreviated game night, not as much gaming done as might have been managed. But all the games were good and one of the group, Rob, who played in all of them was especially enthused. He is new to the hobby but bought his first couple of games (Splendor and 7 Wonders) and is eagerly diving into the hobby. He really liked all the games, so I feel my job as game sommelier was done. A good night.

Photos for this post from Backerfield, olavf and Epsilon_Balls. Thanks!
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Fri May 20, 2016 6:13 pm
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Hexagonal Community Building

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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I have had a bit of a road to travel out to the suburbs and finally see what the fuss is about out in Suburbia.

At first glance, it does immediately seem like a game I would like, managing an economy and triggering abilities based on what you played before, tableau building of a sort, but interconnected and spatial. And its longevity here on BGG is a plus sign too, still talked about and with multiple expansions. It was definitely one for me to check out.

When it came out in app form, my wife Jenny downloaded it and played it. She seemed to enjoy it but when I tried it, it just didn't grab me. I could play through it mechanically but had no grasp of what I was doing. There was a disconnect in what moves I was making and their consequences. When I told my wife about that, she looked at me funny - clearly she didn't have that problem. But I think it is just something about how I learn games, how to really play them, I need to see the nuts and bolts of everything that the computer takes such good care of in that application.

So Suburbia seemed to have become a game I was missing out on but it was relegated to the back of the mind while other games jostled for attention in the front. Then one day I was taking my kids to the mall to see the new Jungle Book movie. It was part of a birthday party, so I was dropping them off with the birthday boy's mother and I could have a quiet Sunday afternoon. Except I messed up the time I was supposed to get there, mixing it up with an appointment of my wife's. So I get to the movie theater with the kids at noon, only to find the movie doesn't start for another hour. So we decided to hang out at Barnes & Noble for the intervening time. There I found they had a sale on so I had to check it out and see if anything interesting was out. And sure enough, there was a copy of Suburbia.

Still, I hesitated. I mean, it was on sale but that was 50% off what they normally charge, so it was still a chunk of change. But I got hold of my wife and she agreed it was a worthwhile purchase. Buying Pick-a-Dog at the same time was a much easier sale.

Is a quick summary needed? Well, that is what I usually do so I will. Each player is building up their little suburb by laying out hex tiles in a interconnected spread. Tiles cost money to place (or can be converted into lakes which generate money) and they will then provide a combination of income, reputation (which draws people to your city growing the population turn by turn) or just straight money or population. A lot of the effects of these tiles are dependent on what is played immediately around it, in the same borough or even across the whole game. As population grows (which you want as highest population wins), you will encounter red lines on the board which reduce both income and reputation, modeling the loss of small town charm, hopefully made up for by the array of features and amenities you have added. Once a 'last round' tile has been drawn, each player gets one last move and finally accounting takes place. Highest population wins.

So we got to playing it. Set-up is quite involved, with multiple stacks of hex tiles, your initial suburb-park-factory in a specific order, shuffling up and distributing goals. Working out just where all the markers go, even. I'm sure it becomes routine quickly but it still took a while. Then we got to playing. And within 2 turns, that disconnect I had about the game was gone completely, it just fell away and I could see how the game was played and the consequences of actions. I really did wonder why it had foxed me so.

Anyway, my wife jumped out into a population lead early on but this rather hampered her development as she crossed red lines and her income was curtailed. I concentrated a lot of income initially, spending quite a bit of my initial funds on a parking lot, then adding office buildings next door. I solidified that with a casino.

Meanwhile, my wife had rebuilt and pushed her own income up and there was the battle over a run of gray buildings. This had a significance I did not know because most grays was her secret goal but there was a whole slew of them and the only other color out there was green - and my secret goal was fewest green! Fortunately for her, several of the tiles looked for green buildings for their benefits - she picked up one of the stadiums that came up to great effect then doubled it. But I had a nice little museum district just off my offices which boosted my reputation and it looked like I was running away with it. But then in the late game, Jenny's reputation kept growing while mine kept falling, partly due to the red lines and also the choices out there. In the end, she almost overtook me, though my dominance in the blue buildings (one public goal) and us tying in the other goal meant I hung on for the win by 5 points, 129-124.

So my initial feeling, that this is the sort of game I would like, was quite definitely brought out in this play. I had a lot of fun building my little 'burb, playing the abilities off each other and even making up a little story about the developing town, as bored office workers looked for entertainments after work. And despite that enthusiasm for the game, it is very unlikely I will break open this box again.

I kind of brushed over the little calculation you make every turn after placing a tile, looking for everything out there affected by what you just did. It is easy to miss something, $2 here, a reputation point there. This didn't bother me that much, part of playing the game. But Jenny, oh dear, it drove her crazy thinking about it, sure that it had cost her some move a couple turns ago when she would have had $2 more and could have afforded that tile a turn earlier, etc etc. And under normal circumstances, that would be annoying and maybe she could get over it. But in this game, we have the aforementioned app version which takes care of all of that flawlessly and painlessly. There is almost no reason to play this nice physical version other than to really see how things work and because playing games with physical bits is a much more pleasant experience. Sometimes that just isn't enough.

Photos for this post from Mavericius, Ambush3 and Sekwof - thanks!
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Fri May 13, 2016 5:50 pm
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What I did on Tabletop Day

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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It did involve play, but not so much a table top. Or any board games.

We added a new member to our family, a fox terrier/border collie called Inara:

Our dog was not so sure:


Our cat even less sure:


But I think it will work out:
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Sun May 8, 2016 1:56 am
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April Update - Yes I Am Still Here

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the readers of this blog will be positively ecstatic. But it isn't that I have not been playing games, just the trouble of finding the plays "blog-worthy".

The time for gaming has been rather restricted, slipped in between my wife's crazy schedule over the last month. She is a pet sitter and dog walker, a job that has its ups and downs depending on the owners and their vacations. But right after we got back from our trip, one of the busier pet sitters quit and my wife was one of those that got a lot of that work piled on to her. It was great in a 'we just spent a lot of money on this trip and need to rebuild the saving account' sort of way but it did mean we didn't see as much of her as normal. Plus the semi-regular monthly meet-ups with my game group have been thrown off by various spring break type activities and visiting parents/in-laws, we didn't even see those folks for gaming all month.

Normally, I just hit the highlights but the list of different games is short enough this week I will go game by game.

Most played game, in a shocking surprise, was Star Realms, including a bunch of plays using the stand alone Star Realms: Colony Wars. That came in at 31 plays, which, even as one who participated in these, I found slightly surprising, but it is one that almost always gets a 2nd play of we have time and occasionally a 3rd one. Even after all these plays it is still a go-to game, no, it is THE go-to game. Fast to set-up, fast to play.

I still have more to see in this game though. I have my older copy of the original, all sleeved (because the cards were showing wear after many plays) and the Colony Wars unsleeved because I haven't gotten around to sleeving it yet. The wider issue is that I might not have enough of the sleeves I used, which would suck since then I am going to have to decide if it is worth redoing the whole lot. I also haven't dabbled much in the little mini-expansions, my wife got some of that for the iPad version and we played one game pass and play. But that game did not really reveal much of the expansions, only of the difficulties of buying really expensive cards right at the beginning of the game.

Second most played game was, joyfully, another space card game, Race for the Galaxy, my first forays into the newest expansion, Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion. We played it 3 times, the first game was cards only and my wife grudgingly agreed to play it that way. She wanted the full experience, so the subsequent plays have been full on Invasion mode.

Firstly, the Invasion game is not a big overhead at all, not like the Orb scenario. Everything is clear, right away. I thought it was a lot of fun and gave the whole game a different slant which was refreshing and interesting. There were consequences for getting your head down and just building your produce-consume engine and ignoring everything else. It is the same game but with an altered frame of reference.

My wife thought it made military a bit too important. I think that was shaped a bit by our last game where she was New Sparta and jumped out to a military lead but then stalled, unable to find more military cards. And my token military while I focused on other things ended up surpassing hers and I was Admiral rather than her. I think that was pretty bad luck on her part (though she did all right with a Replicant Robots-aided settle gambit). I thought it was an exciting game. Hopefully a lot more plays of this.

I also got back to The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, specifically a couple of runs at The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – The Hunt for Gollum. I picked up what I thought was this scenario a while back, then found out I had the Nightmare version! But I won a set of the 6 scenario packs including the Hunt for Gollum in the Jack Vasel auction and at long last I got my decks out, dusted them off and gave it a go.

It remains a tough game to win, even 2 handed, though I have not yet modified my decks to combat the troubles here, the main ones I see I have stuff in there to deal with - it has the Hunters from Mordor who can get nasty, but I have Forest Snares and good fighters. And we have a lot of locations which in both games (especially the first) ended up clogging the staging area so much that I could no longer make any progress on the Quest and lost by the Threat Level maxing out. So I think I have to try and change it up a little and I have a couple ideas. Still fun to wrestle with these things. Masochistic fun, but fun nonetheless.

The new game purchase of the month was hardcore strategy game Pick-a-Dog. A bit of a tale behind the purchase, as I was taking my kids to meet friends for a movie/birthday party. But I mixed up the times in my head and we got there an hour early. So we went to the book store to look around and lo and behold, Barnes & Noble is having their Clearance Sale. We picked over everything and I found a copy of Suburbia, so I texted to my wife to see what she thought - I was tempted because she has the app version but I never quite "got" it and thought playing it in real life might help with that. And then I stumbled over a copy of Pick-a-Dog in the piles of assorted junk. $5? Sold! (And I did get Suburbia as well).

We played it once just the two of us then after the kids were back at home, we roped them into a game too. Both of them were so methodical, it was quite funny. But they made no mistakes, which is more than can be said for me or my wife...however my 2 good rounds were enough to beat out their 3 more steady ones (though I have since had a round where I messed up worse...).

This is chaotic and silly but it was great fun and we immediately got the Pig version as well for even more chaos. That I will save for another post.

And the only other game we played was the very excellent Patchwork, a game that continues to delight. This one my wife built an almost perfect 7x7, making a nice double play to complete it ahead of me, though my board was more slapdash as I had some of the odd shaped pieces. However, my income was a little better and that turned into better coverage. My wife made a nice play to deny me any more pieces but I had decent coverage and then just collected buttons and that was enough for a good win.

And that was it for April. But some new games and a game day already planned for May so hopefully some fun stuff to talk about.

Photos by Kaffedrake, W Eric Martin (twice), Eagle_Gryphon_Games and Sada - thanks!
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Fri May 6, 2016 5:52 pm
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March Summary: Another Game of Star Realms?

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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March gaming was a little sparser than the previous months of the year, mostly because we had a 9 day trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos in the middle of it. So both packing and going on that trip took up a lot of potential gaming time. My wife has been busy with work too. So I was a little surprised to find we managed 37 plays but the clue comes with the number of different games, only 8 different ones. They are very much dominated by quick games, 30 minutes or less and highly familiar at that, so barely any rules crunching occurred. And the undisputed king of that is Star Realms, with most of those plays coming from the new set Star Realms: Colony Wars. Those on the base set were mostly pass n play games on the iPad, exploring the new cards has been the driver of our play. We also had our little Rosenberg trio (including a first play of Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – More Buildings Big and Small) and, as a change of pace from pass'n'play Star Realms, we had some pass'n'play Ascension: Deckbuilding Game.

So other than hiking up volcanoes, seeing penguins, flamingos, tortoises, blue-footed boobies and sea lions, we didn't do much else.

Game Qty
Star Realms (including Colony Wars) 26
Ascension: Deckbuilding Game 4
Rat Hot 2
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (with More Buildings) 1
Le Havre: The Inland Port 1
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King 1
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival 1
Patchwork 1

I had a strangely up and down time on Yucata: I got promoted to Chilan Priest but then decided to go on a massive losing streak and was promptly demoted back to Macom Priest. But I wasn't done yet - I seemed to only win my non-scoring games - so got demoted again to Astrologer. Trying to decide if I want to go down again or not, the magic 8-ball says "Ask Again Later". The meta game on Yucata is fun, especially when you are getting promoted, but sometimes it makes losing even less fun. I see they have introduced a rank of Hermit, for those that no longer care about their ranking. I still like it, despite the last month, that it encourages me to get better at games and try new games to get the variety you need to go up in rank. But somehow it still doesn't feel fair when you lose so many ranking points in a game you lost on the tie-breaker.

Overall, the year so far (as the end of the first quarter) has been great for games. 152 games played is massively more than usual for me (I've been roughly at a game a day in previous years), over 39 different games, which somehow feels lower than usual, perhaps with good reason. Star Realms of course heads that list with 44 plays already, but Codenames and the comeback of Small World both have dimed and there are quite a few sitting at 5+ plays. Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King will definitely see more plays and I have been pretty happy with the new games in the collection: the afore-mentioned Colony Wars, Codenames and Isle of Skye, but also Matcha and Cat Tower have been fun and the Small World and Takenoko expansions we got (both of which got those games back in the mix).

Still to come: my favorite game and its best expansion (maybe?). Now all I have to do is find time in my wife's crazy schedule to play it. Hmmm, those The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game packs I still haven't played yet might have to come into play as well then.
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Fri Apr 1, 2016 6:04 pm
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What's Happened to the Colonies?

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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After the quick and successful card play of the original Star Realms, especially in our house where it led the most played lists for 10 months straight, the release of the stand alone expansion Star Realms: Colony Wars was always going to be hotly anticipated. Having picked it up last month, it has seen some pretty heavy play and I thought I'd share my impressions of the set.

I'm assuming for this post that the reader is at least passingly familiar with the original game, a quick playing deck builder with a central row of cards (representing ships and bases) to buy, with the aim of knocking out your opponent's authority through attacks. There are four factions, each with a different focus and a key part of the game is the ally action where you get some bonus if you played another card of that faction during the current turn.

And before I go further, I am not pretending to be some kind of expert at this game, pretty much casual 2 players against my wife is the extent of my experience. So tournament scene insights will not be expounded here.

The new set is, as I said, stand alone, so the familiar vipers and scouts are in there. But other than those cards, there are no repeats from the previous game, so every basic ship has been reinvented, though mostly along familiar lines; there are very few truly new mechanisms here. The one new thing comes from the cards that you can buy and take into your hand as long as you played a card of that faction this turn, a neat twist on the ally mechanic. And one that produces some dramatic moments.

Another aspect I noticed is that the bases feel more prevalent. I didn't do a count of the relative amounts, but from the games we have played, the outposts are still there but less common while the bases are more common - and bases that have 2 or 3 defense as well, so it adds to the decisions of a player turn, do I spend that combat to destroy the base or go for the player. Outposts are a neat idea but they force your move - you have to attack them first. With more bases, the attacker has to choose what to attack and that makes it more interesting.

The individual factions have broadly kept their focus, the blobs attacking, the trade federation boosting authority, the machine cult deck culling and the star empire draw and discarding. But they have tweaked it a little - especially the trade federation, used to be blue got a bit of fight in their defensive ways, but aside from a couple ships (the Peacekeeper!), a deck that has too much blue will lack the bite to take out their opponent.

The more aggressive factions seem just a bit more aggressive to me. Not a lot more. But we have had a string of come from behind victories, where one lands a punch that almost KOs their opponent and one more will take them down, only for that seemingly mortally wounded player to produce a monster turn of their own. That happened occasionally in the original too, but less frequently, more common was one player gets on top and stays there, wearing their opponent down. This one feels more swingy and exciting.

There is some interesting variation that you have to read carefully. The Machine Cult bots still cull your scouts and vipers, but they have mixed things up, some now only scrap cards in your discard pile and some only from your hand. The Stealth Needle of the set is Stealth Tower which copies another base in play. I noticed a bit less buying power from those bots though.

The blobs have the most similarity to the previous set, aggressive attackers, some get one free cards and a bit of card draw via allying. The Parasite is an interesting one, 6 combat or get a 6 cost ship for free, so good early, good late. They were also the faction that had more bases to gain ally abilities rather than defense, so that they have new ones there is not as such a change.

The star empire have been pumped up a little for my money. The low cost ship star barge is good for cash, giving them the money that the original bunch lacked. There is some decent medium sized hitters though, the lancer which does extra damage against players with bases is a popular choice. A bit of card draw, though a couple of those feel a little underpowered (I am especially thinking of the falcon here, 3 cost but 2 combat?). But they do have the heavy weight, the Emperor's Dreadnaught, a monster ship that can come directly into play as long as you played an imperial ship this turn. That can be a game changer.

Another thing I like about the set is the self-scrapping cards. Most of the time, these are a non-decision but sometimes, scrapping a card you bought (often with a useful ability) gives you that one more thing you need to turn the game - or finish off an opponent. Sometimes it is just an extra 3 or 4 trade to buy that big ship, or the extra combat you need. I have seen games where the scrap for one more card turned a modest attack into a monster one. But they do always provide that moment of indecision, am I going to see this again, do I need it any more? More of this can only be good.

So overall, Colony Wars is another set of Star Realms cards and that can only be good, but I think the little tweaks provide a little more dimension to the game. And I haven't even experimented with mixing the two decks together yet.

The photos for this post come from W Eric Martin, Firyar and FreedomDriven - thanks to all 3 of them!
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Fri Mar 18, 2016 9:34 pm
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The Rosenberg Three

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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We got in a trio of plays featuring the work of Mr Uwe Rosenberg in his 2-player series.

First up, calling to us from across the room, was Patchwork, the game of Tetris style quilting. This has been a big hit with us (along others) and surprises me with its subtleties. This play was no exception.

I got off to a fine start with patches spreading across my board while Jenny is more methodical with a better income. I spread across the board rapidly, while her patches are clustered in the top corner. I look for bargains and Jenny builds on her income, building out steadily so she gets the 7x7 bonus as I fill area but with some stylish holes worked into the design. But despite losing out on that bonus, I cover more and it ends up very close, especially as my income grew steadily (plus I wasn't spending too much) while Jenny got a lot with each income but spent a lot too. It ends up desperately close...my greater coverage and retained cash not quite matching her greater cash and 7x7 bonus though her larger empty space.
D: 24 buttons - 2x6 = 12
J: 28 buttons +7 - 2x11 = 13

Another play of this where in the middle of the game, I thought I had it covered (ahem). Super easy to learn but somehow it feels like one of his strongest designs in a while, and utterly different from his farming based oeuvre of late.

Immediately under Patchwork on the shelf was another Rosenberg game, Le Havre: The Inland Port.

It turned out to be a rather curious play. I laid it all out but then I remember I have to go get the car inspected. We get back to it later but Jenny had trouble getting back to it, the gap between plays being longer than I realized and there is some catching on to how it all works. She got a little frustrated that she needed to pay me for clay, having no other source available and not wanting to spend her last Francs. But she got over it, a building firm of her own then using my restaurant right ahead of me. And she consistently bought valuable buildings while I bought for utility first. And she had the cash for the pier and got the port too while I had the zoo and got a big pile of fish right before Jenny bought the fish bonus building. The clay one I did get was much less lucrative (and neither would have made up the gap).

D: $22 + 160 building + 8 clay = 190
J: $11 + 218 building + 5 fish + 5 wheat = 239

I'll point out that our previous games have all had a difference of 5 points or less. I am still processing just what happened. It is odd that I feel like this is a game I am familiar with and have played a lot but in actual fact, I've just played a few times. My wife says she finds it quite intense and is happy to have a gap between plays, not because she doesn't enjoy it (she does, especially when she wins by lots of points!) but because it is a brain burner in a little box, a lot to think about and a lot to consider.

After the two Uwe 2 player games, it seemed natural to suggest Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small especially as we hadn't played this with the expansion Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – More Buildings Big and Small yet. The shiny new buildings were the Insemination Center, the Hay Rack, the Sawmill and the Farm Shop. Jenny immediately built the Insemination Center. Adding the Hay Rack, she thought to grab 3 singles and breed quickly but then found she needed to do some work to make room for the animals she would breed - a definite infrastructure problem. Meanwhile I went stall...open stables, fencing and growing the herds the normal way. So I had a good amount of sheep and some horses. Jenny tried to get set to grab pigs and cows but the timing was off and I ended up with the bulk pig haul. She got better scoring buildings and finished 2 expansions but I had many more animals.

J: 12 sheep, 0 pigs, 4 cows, 6 horses; 2 expansions; 9 points buildings = 39
D: 16 sheep, 9 pigs, 1 cow, 7 horses; 1 expansion; 4 points buildings = 48

There had been a good gap between our plays of this one as well. I had got it because I wanted that mini-Agricola fix and Jenny has been less enthusiastic about playing the big game. AACBAS has the advantage of being shorter and more forgiving - no feeding your family - and only the animals to look after. It should be an easy sell. But she did not really ever take to it, finding it unsatisfying. After this particular play, she had something of a personal epiphany which partly explains her dissatisfaction for both the little and the large versions - it is a tight game in which you do not have time to do everything. You just have to pick what you want to do and hope for the best that it is better than what your opponent is up to. But it drives her a little crazy that nothing is ever quite finished. Even when the farm is complete and the board filled, there is almost always something else you could do. I have heard that criticism of Agricola before, where it ends just as you have your engine set up. Though really you should have it running by then and it loses its edge if it gets loose and easy. And my wife likes to finish things. So AACBAS, as a bite-size Agricola that retains at least some of that tension and that feeling that you can't do it all, falls short as a game that my wife can love.

It is funny how it goes, I would probably have ranked these 3 in the exact opposite order before I played them, though partly due to how I'd see how I'd like a game rather than considering how well they would go down with my main gaming opponent. I still might have thought she'd dig farming the animals though, over moving things through a warehouse or stitching up a quilt.

Thanks to bovbossi, The_Blue_Meeple and LiteBulb88 for their photos!
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Fri Mar 11, 2016 6:42 pm
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February: Codename Colony

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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After January's mass of plays, I expected February to fall a little short, but in the end, it held its own, with 48 plays of 16 different games, a very robust month boosted mostly by the arrival of new games in the form of Codenames and Star Realms: Colony Wars, plus our explorations of Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King. That's my best February in my records.

Our game nights this month were dominated by the lighter games - Codenames did take over a bit, but it was also the right game for those particular nights, a less hardcore crowd, some non-gamers even. A good time with some of the sillier games and trying out Deep Sea Adventure at its maximum capacity - and finding it quite satisfactory.

Game Qty
Codenames 15
Star Realms (including Star Realms: Colony Wars) 9
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King 6
Small World 4
Deep Sea Adventure 2
Rhino Hero 2
Cards Against Humanity 1
Cat Tower 1
Coloretto 1
Electronic Catch Phrase 1
Piece o' Cake 1
Rat Hot 1
Splendor 1
Spyfall 1
Steam Works 1
Wits & Wagers 1

Codenames was obviously the hot game of the month and I already feel like I talked about it a lot. It did feature at our last game night of the month, last weekend, with our hostess repeatedly asking for it. To say it left an impression might be an understatement. But in addition to the two couples who had played it before, we had 4 more and these were at most occasional gamers, a quick party game when the mood was right. But they all took to it wonderfully, especially with us to take the Spy Master roles for the first game. Everyone took a turn at it though and we learned of the dangers of stretching a bit too far - my clue gave the opposition a word instead of us and we also saw our first assassin. It's a great design, so flexible and malleable by the group playing it and each clue giver can interpret it in their own unique way. So I suspect though I have talked about it a lot already, it will see much more play through the year.

And talking of games which see a lot of play, February saw the long-anticipated arrival of the new Star Realms box, Star Realms: Colony Wars. I can't remember ever buying a game and breaking the shrink right in the store before, but we did it with this game (though that was partly because we had a little spare time before we had to be somewhere). So far, we haven't mixed things, just played 'pure' Colony Wars. I like the mix of cards, feels like more bases than outposts with neat little abilities. And the cards which you get straight in your hand if you played the right faction that turn are a neat twist on the allying mechanic of the base game. It also felt like we were dealing out a bit more damage, but that might be just how things panned out, as there was one game where we hung out around our starting authorities as a bunch of trade ships kept both of us afloat and they definitely felt like they had less punch, which seems appropriate - better cash and authority boosting would be their specialty. Anyway, really nice to have new cards in the mix plus the added bonus of another 2 sets of scouts/vipers so multi-player games become more viable. It remains to be seen if those transpire.

I have to mention our game of Rhino Hero. We had already played once and we had fun piling up the cards. But we were playing on the kitchen table which had a light hanging down over it. And the tower was building up toward it. Our host thought it unlikely that we would reach it before it fell, but that next game we did. It was hilarious, players off turn were tasked with holding the light out of the way while the stories piled higher. We reached 12 stories, it was impressive. I tried to take a picture but my crappy iPod takes bad photos.

The other new game of the month was Cat Tower, which is rather like Rhino Hero in that it is a stacking game using cards but the twists come from a dice roll rather than the card play of the previous player. We just got the initial play in and it was pretty silly fun, though it seemed to lack a bit of the drama of the teetering tower from Rhino Hero as it never managed to get very high; the randomness of the dice roll rarely let things build up in any kind of stable fashion. Or perhaps my wife was just in a clumsy mood, because it was mostly her knocking it over. But for a whim purchase (and her whim not mine for once!), it should work out OK. The cats are cute.

We did explore Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, but I already talked about that. The only game night since then I did bring it, hoping to play a multi-player game but the group was too big and it wasn't really right for the moment. I think they will like it though, some juicy assessments to make.

The only non-light game we played was Steam Works. My friends had borrowed it and Rick had read the rules, but they were not getting it played, so they invited us over specifically for that purpose. Our first attempt at that had ended badly, started it too late in the evening, and the path to victory in this game is somewhat obscure at the beginning, prompting such comments as "I can see what I can do, but not what I should do". This time around, we got through the whole game and especially those latter rounds were exciting and engaging, lots of possibilities and opportunities. Rick's wife, ever the planner and analyst, won the game and then promptly declared she could never play it again - it was just too much calculation, that it became unfun for her. (And sadly she can't turn that off, her brain won't let her). Rick enjoyed it though, so we might bring it out again on a game night when Kristi is not around. And at home, I have been looking for a chance to try Mina's variant for 2 players with less tiles in the mix.

Online plays I have not tabulated, but there is news. I had a rather up and down month on Yucata, got promoted to Chilan Priest in a fairly tidy fashion and then went on a glorious losing streak, losing enough ranking points that I was promptly demoted again. There was a while when I thought I would never win again. Continuing to enjoy things on Boiteajeux, Agricola, Deus, Dungeon Petz, Trajan. Our game of Dungeon Lords was a bit of a disaster (I got the Paladin coming after me and then one of my monsters was turned into a sheep) and I still am struggling a bit with Tzolkin. Last game I finished with a negative score. And in the current one I thought I was getting corn that I didn't get because rules. SO I am not quite there with that one,to say the least.

I have also returned to Boardgamearena after not playing on there for a long time. I just found playing live games stressed me out, which is perhaps a weird response but the systems in place on BGA for making sure no one waits too long on a turn does feed into my anxiety. I knew they had implemented turn based gaming there but I had enough going on. However, the recent addition of Keyflower (plus the excited encouragement from some of my fellow online gamers) made me go over there again and I am in glorious summer of my first game. I already know I will have to play it again and that this was another good recommendation from readers of this blog (and on various other places on BGG!).
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Thu Mar 3, 2016 6:02 pm
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